SUMMARY: On a trip to catch mustangs, Adam learns about breaking horses from an unlikely source. This is an expansion of a Sourdough challenge from Bonanza Trailriders. Edited in a second Mustang Sally story based on a Pinecone challenge from Brand — McTeague.
Rating: PG Word count = 2215
In late spring, Joe and Adam were on a trip to Wyoming to catch mustangs, break them, and bring them back to the ranch, but some of them were going to be brought back unbroken to be used in a rodeo. The brothers worked together in breaking the horses. Joe chortled when Adam got bucked off a big black horse and walked off, sore, tired, planning to ride him again the next day. The same thing happened the next day. On the third day, he was hurt. Joe told him he was getting too old for bronc busting. He was trying to get him fired up and out of his cot. One of the locals they had hired to help them, the camp cook, Mustang Sally waited for Joe to leave.
“You’ve never learned how to break a horse.”
Snapping back, Adam wasn’t about to be challenged by a camp cook. “I’ve been breaking horses since I was 16.”
“And sometimes they break you.”
With that challenge, Adam was quiet. She had him there because he couldn’t deny it. There were horses he had been forced to release as unbreakable. In each case, he had made a noble statement about how those horses needed to run free, but actually it rankled that he had been defeated by an animal. As a man, he expected to win. Letting a horse win those duels was grating and hearing her remind him of it wasn’t any better.
“You’ve lost some of the best horses because you let them win like that big black out there is winning. Each time you walked away, his soul grew stronger.”
“Yes. He thinks he’s in charge now. You will never ride him unless you change his mind. Do you like apples?”
Not knowing what to make of the change in subject, Adam nodded even as he frowned because this woman kept him off balance. Of indeterminate age, she dressed in some Indian clothing and some white. He wondered if she had lived with the Newe of that area at least for a time. She saw the frown and although amused, avoided smiling. She had guessed he would be the one she could teach.
“Let’s go eat some by the corral. You can’t ride yet, but a walk will do you good,”
Curious as to what she planned for he was sure she had some kind of devious goal in mind, he struggled to stand and limped out to the corral as she matched his pace, and they did eat apples as the big black edged closer and closer.
“Put out your hand and make him take that apple from your hand. He wants it. Like most, they like sweet things. It may take some time because he’s got to fight himself to do it. He’s not comfortable around people so he has to let that desire for the apple overcome his natural tendency to go the other way when people are around.”
Reluctant to take orders from this woman he hardly knew, Adam was intrigued. He did as she told him and it worked. For the rest of the day, Adam and Mustang Sally talked about their experiences with horses. The next day, Mustang Sally had him break the apple in half. Following her instructions, he held out the half and had the horse take it from his hand as he held the other half back but where the horse could see it. He patted the horse’s neck and immediately gave him the other half. The clear message to the horse was that allowing the pat earned the apple. Each day then, more was expected of the horse until Adam was leading him around the corral with a lead rope and then had him in a halter.
“Now he’s accepting you as his leader.”
“We’re going to run out of apples.”
“Soon, he won’t always need an apple. He likes you patting his neck even now. He’s still nervous around people though. Lead him over there to where the men are gathered for lunch. I gave them most of what was left of the apples for him.”
Walking slowly and keeping himself near the horse’s head, Adam talked reassuringly to the horse as he walked them to where the men stood talking and occasionally laughing. He could feel how nervous the big black was. When he got him there, the men followed Mustang Sally’s instructions and gave the apples to the horse although some weren’t brave enough to let the horse take it from their hands. They tossed the apples to the ground by the horse. Either way, the black had his fill of those apples and Adam turned him as the men stepped aside so he could leave with his horse. Watching them, Mustang Sally smiled. Now the horse saw Adam as the leader of everyone. She knew that would make him even more likely to follow Adam’s commands.
Meanwhile Joe returned with more horses and decided the black was perfect for the rodeo. He thought the best idea was that Adam would ride him when it was time to put a saddle on the big black. Unaware of the work Adam had been doing with the horse, he couldn’t wait for the exciting moment. Joe was there for the fun betting against Adam and hoping for a big payday. When Adam climbed into the saddle, the big black swung his head back as if to ask if that seemed natural. When the ropes were pulled away to free him, he bucked once against the unusual weight even as Adam urged him forward and pulled the reins to keep his head high. The big black made a few circuits of the corral at high speed before stopping suddenly but Adam stayed where in the saddle. The big black conceded the victory, and Adam pulled two apples from his shirt. He leaned down and fed them to the big black before dismounting. The crowd was stunned not sure how to respond to the unusual ride. There was some applause and others sought out Joe. A shocked Joe had to pay up and was left with only a dollar. Once the last man left, he sought out his brother who stood with their father and looked rather smug.
“What the heck happened? Did you break that horse when I wasn’t in camp?”
“No, Joe, Mustang Sally helped, and we got to be friends, and I learned about his soul.”
As Adam walked away with their father, Hoss walked up to Joe who was still upset.
“Hoss, you’re right. Our older brother is sneaky.”
For more times than he could remember, Ben Cartwright was frustrated with his oldest son. “You want to go visit Mustang Sally instead of coming with me to San Francisco with its cultural events that you have always enjoyed so much and usually grouse about how you miss them so by living here? This is how you wish to use your hard-earned time off?”
“Pa, I told her nearly six months ago that I would pay a return visit and tell her how I have done with training horses using her methods. After I got that big black tamed down, I’ve used that method on a number of horses that were supposedly untrainable according to men who’ve broken horses for years. I owe her a lot, and a visit is at the top of that list. If I don’t go now, the weather will stop me from going for another six months probably. It will look like a broken promise.”
With that, Ben had nothing more to say. Adam finished packing up for his trip and left with a smile and a wave. Ben watched him ride out and guessed he’d probably be singing as he rode. He knew he did that sometimes and wondered what others who might hear thought about that seeing a man in black singing as he rode. He smiled as he walked into the house. He knew his oldest son was quite a complex man.
The trip to Wyoming was long, and Adam took his time enjoying the solitude and the chance to spend time thinking, and yes, singing. It wasn’t often that he got to do both without derisive comments or interruptions. By the time he tired of seeing wide open expanses framed by distant mountains or rode through valleys of those mountains enjoying the majesty of towering peaks, he was at his destination. Mustang Sally yelled to him from the house as he dismounted. He wasn’t sure what she said but it almost sounded like a warning. A moment later, a man’s hand grabbed his shoulder, spun him around, and landed a solid blow to his chin that nearly lifted him from his feet and did land him square on his back in the dirt where he hit his head for good measure.
“McTeague! Let him alone!”
For the next minute, Adam heard arguing, but he was trying to clear his head and couldn’t make sense of the loud conversation he heard. It didn’t make sense to him at all. A moment later, Mustang Sally slid an arm through his and helped him stand.
“I’ll help you to my house. You can’t stay in the bunkhouse this time. Of course, staying in my house is only going to make things worse not that they can get much worse.”
“Worse? What things? Why did that man hit me?”
“Oh, McTeague? Well, I talked about you so much when he got back last time, he thought we had a thing. Then when I got your letter saying you was coming to see me, he thought you was coming here ta marry up with me. He’s a very jealous man.”
“Marry you? I’m not going to marry you.”
“I know, but McTeague thinks you are.”
“You told him I wasn’t, didn’t you?” Then even in his state, Adam could see the look she had. “You didn’t tell him. Why not?”
“Well, we been seeing each other over ten years. I figure it’s time he marries me or move on. Seems ifn he don’t want me marrying somebody else, he oughta ask me.”
“But he could kill me. He’s huge!”
“Oh, I don’t think he would kill you. He coulda done that out there ifn he wanted to.” She saw Adam’s look of horror. “Now, I wouldn’t have let him do that. I would have protected you.”
“I don’t need protecting.” Sally turned to look at him rather speculatively. “Oh, all right, you did stop him from beating me to death. Listen, with a little warning, I could have protected myself.”
“I know, but I didn’t want you to kill him.”
“So, now what?”
“We wait to see if McTeague makes me an offer I can’t refuse.”
“Let’s hope it’s not calling me out instead.”
A pounding at the door meant McTeague was there to do something. Mustang Sally answered his summons. The man hadn’t calmed down much and stood red-faced at the open door.
“You ain’t spending the night with him, or it’s all over with us.”
“I ain’t spending the night with him. I’m offering him refuge from you. He can’t sleep in the bunkhouse with you. You’d kill him.”
“Ya, I would, and I still might as soon as he walks out of this house.”
“What other options are there?”
“What else could you do besides killing Adam?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“Think about it, McTeague. What could you do beside killing that man that would mean I would spend the night with you and not him?”
McTeague frowned, pursed his lips, and looked heavenward as he though hard. Adam stared at the couple. Mustang Sally was watching McTeague with that hopeful expression that somehow the big man would come to the right conclusion.
“As my father would say, jumping jehosophat, marry her, man! If you marry her, no man would go near her. Marriage makes a woman off limits to any other decent man. I’m a decent, God-fearing man. I’d respect the bonds of matrimony.”
“He means marriage.”
“Why didn’t he say that then?”
“He shur talks pretty sometimes, don’t he?”
“Ya, he does. Maybe he could marry us?”
“We’re getting married?”
“Ya, like he said. Didn’t you hear him?”
“You didn’t ask me.”
“I gotta ask you too?”
“I guess not. We’re getting married?”
“Soon as we get somebody to say the words.”
“Adam, can you say the words?”
“I could, but it wouldn’t be legal and proper.”
“This is Wyoming. It’d be fine.”
So Adam gave away the bride, officiated at the wedding of Mustang Sally and McTeague, and then learned a bit more about taming horses before he rode home with the bruise on his chin nearly gone. He had some stories to tell but wondered if his family would think they were tall tales. He smiled and began singing a song as he rode.
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